On this week of Climate Conversations, the team sits down with Ramón Bueno, a MIT alumnus, and climate and development specialist. We discuss the devastation in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, in the context of systems failure and intersectional justice.
Bueno outlines the significance of the centralized power system in Puerto Rico, and how its reliance on fossil fuels has failed the people of Puerto Rico. To avoid similar failures in the future, he advocates decentralizing power systems via developing micro grids, as well as developing electricity infrastructure that is more resilient in extreme weather events.
Bueno and the team also look at how the hurricane amplified social and economic justice issues. We discuss the many opportunities for addressing those issues while increasing initiatives to reduce poverty. The conversation closes with highlights of what communities both in Puerto Rico and in the greater Boston area have undertaken to mobilize for immediate needs as well as social and environmental justice longer term.
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[00:00:00:02] RAMON BUENO: Most people have probably seen a lot of the reporting and images and photos and videos. It's a kind of devastation that is not frequently seen. I don't see anybody who says, oh, this is a one off thing that will never happen again. So this is very clear proof of how investing in the social and economic justice actually has very high returns in the long run.
[00:00:21:21] SPEAKER 1: This is Climate Conversations, a podcast by ClimateX, the online community building a movement to solve our climate crisis.
[00:00:31:14] So today, we have a really, really important topic to address, which is, how do societies respond to catastrophic climate change-related events. And I am with my colleague.
[00:00:46:09] DAVE DAHM-LUHR: Dave Dahm-Luhr. Glad to be here.
[00:00:48:14] SPEAKER 1: And we have in our studio Ramon Bueno, MIT graduate, independent consultant, climate modeler, and also someone who was brought up in Puerto Rico and will be telling us a lot about what's happening in the island these days.
[00:01:05:13] DAVE DAHM-LUHR: Welcome Ramon, glad you're here.
[00:01:07:16] RAMON BUENO: Glad to be here as well.
[00:01:09:03] SPEAKER 1: So Ramon, before we get to the aftermath of Maria, tell us how you got to Puerto Rico in the first place, because there's an interesting story there too.
[00:01:20:00] RAMON BUENO: Well, I arrived in San Juan in January of 1963 from Miami, where I had moved in the summer of '61 when I left Cuba. So it was a two phase move. It was after the Bay of Pigs. Confrontation with the US was escalating out of every month. And the missile crisis was the next year while I was in Miami. So it's that extremely high pitch Cold War era.
[00:01:47:17] But then I arrived in Puerto Rico in January of '63. And I was there until I graduated high school and came to MIT.
[00:01:55:05] DAVE DAHM-LUHR: You lived in San Juan, I believe, right?
[00:01:56:22] RAMON BUENO: Yeah, in the San Juan metropolitan area, different neighborhoods, but--
[00:02:00:18] SPEAKER 1: And so now we're going to jump very quickly 55 five years later and ask you what is happening in Puerto Rico today. What has been the impact of Hurricane Maria on an island which is already, I think, in a lot of financial and other troubles?
[00:02:16:24] RAMON BUENO: Yeah. I mean, where to even begin? Most people have probably seen a lot of the reporting and images and photos and videos. It's a kind of devastation that is not frequently seen, except sometimes in smaller islands where a storm can go through and just devastate everything.
[00:02:34:09] Puerto Rico's bigger. It's not as big as Cuba or the Dominican Republic. But it's a bigger island word much more developed economy. So to see the storm go through and basically collapse the entire functioning of the economy, especially through the power system, but not just the power system, the water systems, the roads, bridges. It's almost like a postwar situation.
[00:02:57:20] Then the added context is that Puerto Rico was in extremely dire economic, financial terms prior to this. And that's a whole other story, many reasons, and that's a whole other story.
[00:03:11:14] But you have a situation where you're in an extremely difficult financial situation, and all of sudden, you get total devastation of your economy. So you don't have to see too much more. But then you see all the photos, the stories.
[00:03:23:27] I haven't been since the storms. We were talking before. I mean, I had the ironic coincidence of being in San Juan in late July, invited by the Center for Investigative journalism, a local research group of journalists. And the topic was impacts of climate change in the island and in the Caribbean.
[00:03:43:07] So it was very painful knowing a few weeks later, literally, a couple of months later, that for a while, I couldn't even reach the people that were colleagues that were there to see how they were doing. I mean, eventually I started collecting. And fortunately most of the people were fine.
[00:03:58:12] But there had been other journalists there from around the Caribbean. And I remember eventually talking to someone from the British Virgin Islands. And how are you? He said, I'm fine. But I'm glad we went to a shelter, because our place was blown away and that sort of thing.
[00:04:15:02] So that now is repeated throughout the island. And so imagine a lot of people, let's say half the population, no refrigeration, no lights, no electricity. Never mind if you have health problems and medications and all that kind of stuff, just dealing with food, you know? You can't buy food if it's going to go bad. I mean, you can only buy what you're going to consume.
[00:04:35:16] Temperatures? You know, mid to high 80s, 90s, high humidity. Not only do you have maintaining your health, physical, but also your mental health. So it touches across the entire what does it mean to be in a community or being-- livelihood. Just name the aspect of it, and it's being impacted tremendously.
[00:04:55:08] One of the things that hit me the most the first week or so, seeing a photograph. And when I read the caption, it was from a neighborhood near one of the neighborhoods that I lived in. And it was taken from a second floor balcony. This is a neighborhood built in the 60s. And it looks like a river, literally a river with porches. The water at 2/3 up the doors--
[00:05:19:19] This is a neighborhood that I used to bicycle through and all that. So this not like a slum that happened to be in a river. So it brought it home very, very close to me.
[00:05:29:26] In the city, for example-- and my sister lives in Guaynabo. It's a solidly built neighborhood, middle class neighborhood. There were damages there and trees fell down, power lines, this and that. There's damage, but most of the homes, or many of them, are solidly built, concrete, whatever. They survived. Some damage here, maybe a window or door.
[00:05:49:18] There are other places, smaller towns-- and this is all over the island, whether it's in the northeast, south where a higher percentage of people are poorer. The construction is flimsier, zinc roofs, wood, this and that. Those things cannot withstand 150 mile an hour winds for hours and hours on end.
[00:06:11:11] So there have been gripping photographs where you see someone sitting with a couple of chairs on the floor of their house, because there's nothing else left, and saying it was calming to be there, because that's the only thing that's left.
[00:06:25:01] SPEAKER 1: What can we even do? This is system-wide failure. Everything essentially stopped working. So how do you restart the engine?
[00:06:35:21] RAMON BUENO: Extremely challenging question. On the one hand, you need power, right? I mean, Puerto Rico is highly electrified. So that's one thing.
[00:06:46:24] In the second part of the 20th century, there was a lot of industrialization and agriculture was de-emphasized. So a lot of things are electrified. So electricity is the lifeblood of the economy. So it has to get restored. So that's why there's a lot of emphasis on restoring the power system, the power lines and all that.
[00:07:05:09] Second part of that, which is something I'm sure we'll talk about, is that there's a growing consensus in the island that just doing that, restoring the power system so that it functions is just not only not good enough. It's just laying the ground for another disaster.
[00:07:22:05] DAVE DAHM-LUHR: Asking for trouble for future storms.
[00:07:23:25] RAMON BUENO: Yeah. The power utility is broke as well. It went into bankruptcy in July. It's got well over a decade of just-- never mind whether it's mismanagement or all that-- but insufficient investment. Maintenance has been very low. A year ago, without storms, the power went out for days and days and days in the entire island. And then in some parts for much longer.
[00:07:46:06] So you have to bring that back somehow. But people have had to rely on all kinds of things, not just what the government can provide. But there's a lot of community efforts, people helping each other out.
[00:07:59:02] It's in times like these that the strength of bonds in the neighborhoods and the communities and the towns count. It's also when failures in governance and malfeasance and all that stuff count even more.
[00:08:12:26] DAVE DAHM-LUHR: Everything's exaggerated.
[00:08:13:19] RAMON BUENO: So there's a lot. Everything is exposed. It's like an X-ray shining through the entire-- and it's not better or worse, necessarily, than any other place. But when you're exposed to, in full, everything is there to be seen.
[00:08:27:07] SPEAKER 1: So do you think that community-driven energy supply could become a reality?
[00:08:35:12] RAMON BUENO: Not only do I think it's going to become a reality, I think it's a necessity. And I think in a lot of the discussions that I've been part of and witnessing, it's amazing the transformation that I've seen.
[00:08:48:21] There have been people talking about the need to get off-- Puerto Rico, like most of the Caribbean, relies on fossil fuel, almost all of it imported, expensive, out of your control. It's money flowing out of your economy. So there's been a long time of discussion that that has to go. How do you do it? Over how long a period? But now there's a realization that the inability to bring it all back quickly enough--
[00:09:18:09] Some people have been analyzing, saying there are going to be remote areas that it could be half a year. So there's a lot of targeting of efforts and thinking about, we got to bring in there systems that can help the community start consolidating some core essential power services. And if that happens at a broad enough scale,
[00:09:40:24] I mean, at some point, you have to worry about, as the system comes back to life, how it all integrates. But it's been remarkable to me to see how, at many different, levels, experts, people on the street reporting that you see, all of a sudden everybody's talking about, of course. You can't have a brittle, centralized, aging system based on fossil fuels. You have to move to some form of decentralized network, smartly organized, of micro-grids that, if an arm is broken or cut off, it doesn't mean the whole thing comes down. It just means that stops working until it's made to work again and that sort of thing.
[00:10:18:01] And it's remarkable. I think the consensus has pretty much gelled that that's what you need to do.
[00:10:23:10] Some people start staying, well, no, the centralized system needs to be functioning. And of course, it has to function in the short term. But what everybody's saying is, don't put more into that than is essential.
[00:10:36:07] And fortunately, there's an effort in Congress to change. The law apparently says that a lot of this FEMA assistance can only go to restore what was there. And a lot of people are basically saying, that's crazy. Not only is it wasting money. It's setting up the grounds for the same thing to happen all over again. So I'm hoping there will be some success with that so that some of that money starts going into smart future investments.
[00:11:01:24] DAVE DAHM-LUHR: It sounds like a more decentralized system that's flexible to whatever's happening in a particular location. Is that right?
[00:11:09:19] RAMON BUENO: Yeah. And actually, one thing that I think is important to highlight here, which is what the reality of Puerto Rico and the Caribbean. A lot of things are expensive, OK? And a lot of times, people say, well, integrating all this new technology, that's expensive. And it can be true.
[00:11:27:09] But the thing is what's expensive is all compared to what. Electricity costs in Puerto Rico are at least twice the average in the US and several times what low cost states. So a solution that in an efficient energy system state in the US might be costly, because you have such cheaper power, in a situation like that, but especially in a situation where the system has collapsed and it's likely to keep collapsing, it's actually a pretty good investment, I would say.
[00:11:58:28] DAVE DAHM-LUHR: Long-term.
[00:11:59:16] RAMON BUENO: Yeah. So it's all in how you value things. So what is the value of things when you're facing catastrophes?
[00:12:05:25] SPEAKER 1: So this is a hypothetical question. But given the kind of political authority we have in Washington, DC these days, how receptive might they be to FEMA assistance going in decentralized community energies?
[00:12:23:16] RAMON BUENO: I think there's a chance in the sense that, aside from all the political and ideological things, there's a growing discussion in places like FEMA and all that. It has been happening for example with flooding and all that. There's a growing consensus of, it doesn't make any sense to repeatedly build somebody's house that refuses to prepare it for higher sea levels and all that kind of stuff. At some point people say, enough is enough. This is wasted taxpayer money.
[00:12:50:15] So I can't predict what's going to happen. But I think there's a receptivity in Congress, and I think across party lines, that, while this is expensive stuff, these crises are expensive. To the degree that they're not just a one offense that it's never going to happen again, we got to be wise with the money.
[00:13:09:02] DAVE DAHM-LUHR: So I'd like to bring it back to the local level a little bit. I know from our prior conversations that the last couple of months you've been very heavily into conversation and dialogue with other Puerto Ricans, students and others in the Boston area. Could you tell us a little bit about what's been going on in those conversations?
[00:13:27:09] RAMON BUENO: It's been really rewarding and satisfying to see-- the worst thing in a situation like that is feeling powerless reading the news.
[00:13:36:01] DAVE DAHM-LUHR: You can't actually be there.
[00:13:37:19] RAMON BUENO: Yeah, and not being there. I mean, yes, you can donate money on something or other. But you feel like, is that enough.
[00:13:43:26] So I reached out and got in touch with the Puerto Rican Students Association at MIT who were getting very organized. And we've created some nice relationship there. In terms of discussions, what helps, what doesn't help, they've got a lot going on. They're also coordinating with similar efforts at Harvard. And the two brought in people from other institutions around here. So that's been very nice.
[00:14:10:08] At the same time, through them, I learned and get connected with a network of MIT alumni, professionals. Some of them have been working for a long time, others more recent graduates, who have formed sort of an electronic group focused a lot on where do we go from here and especially on the energy front. And that's one of the areas where I was surprised also how quickly the consensus developed into--
[00:14:36:27] Of course, there can be differences of shades, of this and that. But of course, we need to have a completely different kind of power system.
[00:14:44:14] DAVE DAHM-LUHR: A smart micro-grid you were talking about.
[00:14:46:18] RAMON BUENO: Yeah. Networks, microsystems that are flexible and use smart technology. So that's been very worrying, especially because in Puerto Rico, there are a lot of MIT graduates who have done very well, who have relations with people at different levels of government and industry and all that.
[00:15:06:16] For example, there's a foundation for Puerto Rico founded by alums from MIT who have had some collaboration and some projects. And they're functioning right now. They've put aside their plans for development in the island which were doing quite well at and just focusing on coordinating efforts. And there are people from different levels of government and outside of government who have been participating in some of these discussions, developing the framework and ideas of what is the direction that should be going.
[00:15:36:17] I also felt the need, having had personal contact in the past with Spanish-speaking parts of the administration, including President Rafael Reif and Israel Ruiz, the vice president and treasurer. I reached out to them.
[00:15:50:03] My goal was to convey, A, the urgency of the situation in light of the economic crisis. And I was focusing on the scientific and academic community, because I've had, over the past decade, a good relationship with many scientists who have built what's called the Puerto Rico Climate Change Council. It's sort of modeled on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. They're working groups and periodical produce reports on the state of things sort for the island.
[00:16:16:01] DAVE DAHM-LUHR: Sort of an IPPC--
[00:16:17:03] RAMON BUENO: Yeah, yeah.
[00:16:18:02] DAVE DAHM-LUHR: --for Puerto Rico?
[00:16:19:14] RAMON BUENO: Yeah. So I've been having a great relationship with these folks. And I know the value of the work that they do. And I also worried about what's going to happen to these efforts.
[00:16:28:13] It takes a long time to build an organization, a network of collaborators like that, in addition to the university taking a hit for hundreds of millions of hours prior to this, just from the economic crisis.
[00:16:37:29] DAVE DAHM-LUHR: The University of Puerto Rico.
[00:16:39:05] RAMON BUENO: University of Puerto Rico. You If you have to take a hit for hundreds of millions of dollars, it's serious stuff. But then there was physical damage from the storms. And the island cannot afford to lose that, as individuals and also collectively.
[00:16:54:29] SPEAKER 1: So is that a real danger, that people with connections or with expertise will just leave the island?
[00:17:03:13] RAMON BUENO: It's always-- for the last decade, there's been a growing exodus from Puerto Rico. And unlike the exodus that happened in the middle of the 20th century, which tended to be poorer people who were being displaced as the agriculture was displaced and industrialization came in, over the last decade or so, it's been a lot of professionals, because there are not enough opportunities. And there are jobs in the mainland.
[00:17:29:10] Right now, that's accelerating tremendously over the last two months. And Puerto Rico has a tremendous depth in professionals, highly trained academics, PhDs, all kinds. But experts in energy and climate resilient development and sustainability, the island afford, really, to lose that right now. This is the expertise that has to be brought to bear on financial and governmental decision making.
[00:17:57:19] If they're not part of that discussion, then who's going to make that discussion? Who's going to contribute? And that's not where you want to go.
[00:18:04:13] DAVE DAHM-LUHR: So the hurricane exaggerated trends that were already underway.
[00:18:07:12] RAMON BUENO: Absolutely, absolutely.
[00:18:08:09] DAVE DAHM-LUHR: This is what you're saying?
[00:18:09:28] RAMON BUENO: And you can see that in the discussions about how much cronyism or not. And how are decisions being made? Things that can be sizable in terms of amounts of money that we're talking about--
[00:18:23:12] So again, having people who are really knowledgeable about the topics at hand is one of the most effective ways, aside from journalism as well, to have transparency and accountability into what's going on. Otherwise, it becomes the same thing. You're reinforcing the very things that possibly brought you to the state of being.
[00:18:46:15] SPEAKER 1: So let me ask the counterfactual then. How do you prevent that from happening? So what steps, concretely, are being done? And perhaps institutions like MIT can help.
[00:19:02:10] RAMON BUENO: That's a hugely important question. And there probably isn't one answer. But my response was to talk to as many people as would be willing to listen and highlight the importance of-- there are many spheres of activity that need attention. But I'm familiar with the academic, science, research. These are all very relevant things to what's happened and to what's going to need to happen.
[00:19:28:24] So I've been advocating that institutions-- MIT is what I know best. But this is going on at Georgia Tech, at Arizona State, and Georgetown, whenever. Wherever there are enough people that are concerned, this kind of discussion is going on.
[00:19:41:25] Collaborations, not just dropping some money in a bucket, but institutional collaborations that can help these colleagues, these peers continue doing their critical work but also in being able to tap into and nourish and continue, enhance their work. This is the perfect time for that to consolidate, to grow. Even if there are many small collaboration, that can be the difference in certain efforts, certain groups to be able to keep functioning and contributing, as opposed to just saying, I give up.
[00:20:15:08] DAVE DAHM-LUHR: So if I'm a listener, how do I plug into that network of folks trying to figure out a better way to do things?
[00:20:20:10] RAMON BUENO: Great question. There's always the many campaigns for collecting donations. But I would say, if you have ways of staying abreast of what develops in this post-immediate phase, which is collaborations that develop, all these things are going to require support. So if you happen to be someone who has plenty of support to provide or who knows people who will be very willing to be generous with that kind of thing, that's one way to do it, because those institutional collaboration have legs, right? They really help now.
[00:20:57:23] But they also help later and even later and especially if they contribute to enriching the discussion about the steps that are about to be taken, because that has longer roots. If that's done with collaboration and dialogue and respectful sharing of opinions and all that with the local talent-- nobody knows better the conditions in the Puerto Rican economy and society than the people who've been living there and thinking about these things and working these topics their whole lives.
[00:21:28:28] So it's not about having outside institutions who know a lot come in and parachute in saying, guess what, I have a solution.
[00:21:36:29] DAVE DAHM-LUHR: We're here to save.
[00:21:37:18] RAMON BUENO: We have the solutions. No, no. It's about coming down and saying, let's collaborate. Let's work together. What do you have in mind? Here's what we can bring to bear, whether it's resources but also just opportunities for collaboration and knowledge too. Not everybody has the same level of knowledge about any given topic.
[00:21:54:28] So I think the opportunities are enormous. And one of the things that's exciting is that I think also, there's a realization by many people. And I certainly share it and I've written about it. That one of the most valuable ways to have this experience be more than just recovering and getting over at a horrible situation is to come out of the other end with not just a better Puerto Rico, a better economy, a better energy system, but a hub of learning and center for the Caribbean or other islands to benefit for people who want to figure out how to build capacity and resilience--
[00:22:36:25] DAVE DAHM-LUHR: So it could be a kind of growth industry for Puerto Rico?
[00:22:38:27] RAMON BUENO: I think so.
[00:22:39:29] DAVE DAHM-LUHR: Showing a way for the rest of the Caribbean.
[00:22:42:14] RAMON BUENO: Yeah. There had been discussions about what kind of tourism to encourage in Puerto Rico. It had some of the traditional. But there've people, including this Foundation for Puerto Rico, who been, for the last few years saying, we need to bring not just people who want to sit at the beach and tan, but take advantage of nature, culture, all kinds of things that are going on. This would add yet another level, which is collaboration, study, research, conventions.
[00:23:07:15] DAVE DAHM-LUHR: Share best practices.
[00:23:09:02] RAMON BUENO: Exactly, exactly. And I think that would be a real lasting contribution to the Caribbean and other places. Other parts of the world are exposed to the same kind of phenomena.
[00:23:22:27] SPEAKER 1: So let me reframe the challenge versus the opportunity issue a little bit. In one way, the fact that the system collapsed allows you to perhaps not just imagine an entirely new system but even get some political and economic leverage to put that in place. So is that kind of bold imagination happening? And who's doing it and how?
[00:23:49:13] RAMON BUENO: It is happening. Who's doing it and how much varies. That's the reason, which ties back to what I was just saying-- that's the reason to make sure that all the people who have something valuable to say about this stuff in the island get to stay there, number one being to say it and to be heard and to participate. But when you have a crisis like this, what is affordable changes, right?
[00:24:14:17] In your daily life with small disruptions, spending X amount of money on something might feel frivolous. But if all of a sudden, you're hit with a crisis that's an order of magnitude bigger, you don't think twice about spending that. It becomes very economic. So that's a realization that's happening in the island.
[00:24:31:00] The other one is that-- and this is, I think, something that goes beyond liberal, conservative, and Puerto Rico. The discussion also goes through political status. That's a whole other story. Which is that energy costs in Puerto Rico are way too high. And not only are they high, like I was saying before, there like double at least the average in the US. The effective burden is much higher, because average incomes are much lower. So you have higher costs on much lower income. So it's like a multiple sized burden.
[00:25:01:20] So a lot of people, a lot of economists have been saying for years, energy is the lifeblood of the economy. If you get energy costs substantially down, it would really make a huge difference in small and medium-sized businesses, households, the spending they can have or not. So that's pretty much a consensus, I think.
[00:25:18:19] So how do you get there is the issue. But I think the great opportunity here now is this rapid paradigm change that people are accepting, people on the streets. You see it in the newspaper. If you read the comments that people write in, aside from the highly charged, cynical comments and political, a lot of people are just saying, of course. That this is what we have to do. It's like a no-brainer.
[00:25:41:19] Here's the chance that if there's a transition, one of the few ways to lower that is to phase out these costly billions of dollars a year that are spent importing fossil fuels, right? That's money drained out of the economy. Never mind the issue of whether it's feeding the same forces that are causing these phenomena, which is real.
[00:26:04:21] But if you start seeing the balance, the economic logic change, where you start de-emphasizing, minimizing those fossil fuel imports, you start getting a handle on reducing energy costs. And you start being able to then make the economy have a lasting sort of growth potential.
[00:26:24:07] One of the things that people who have studied these disasters, hurricane disasters and all that is that when you really look at these types of disasters, there's the damage that happens. But then there's the lasting, multi-year damage that follows as well. And it's not about destruction. It's about just lost growth. And just the drag on the possibility.
[00:26:46:09] DAVE DAHM-LUHR: The negative multiplier.
[00:26:47:06] RAMON BUENO: Yeah. So being able to have a prospect of avoiding some of that horrible long term drag, that alone encourages investment, because people say, well, if we get out of this mess and if energy costs coming down, we can really get things going, especially in a place with high poverty rates, because that has direct impact right away on household consumption. If you're not spending too much money on just having the lights on, you can actually then do other things.
[00:27:16:09] So the economics of poverty and inequality in the country actually play into this catastrophic situations, because it has serious economic consequences. So this is a case where investing in reducing inequality and poverty actually has incredibly high returns, at least for places like the Caribbean, where you can have these catastrophic situations recur. And I don't see anybody who says that, oh, this is a one off thing, and it will never happen again.
[00:27:44:02] So this is very clear proof of how investing in the social and economic justice side of the society actually has very high returns in the long run for being able to, A, avoid these disasters, the suffering that's have, but also to build to bounce back quicker. Professionals in Puerto Rico are bouncing back. They will bounce back quicker. They lost income and opportunity, but they have savings. The people who don't have that, they're facing years, years, years of struggling and life changing conditions.
[00:28:17:24] SPEAKER 1: So if you had to put a crystal ball into making the post hurricane impact more robust, what kind of suggestions would you leave with our listeners?
[00:28:31:20] RAMON BUENO: I think that what this shows-- initially, it's easy to focus on, oh, my god, it's a terrible tragedy in the Caribbean and all that. But I think it shines a light on a much bigger issue, because Houston, much wealthier place, did not exactly have it easy either. So I think that the thing is that a lot of people in nonprofits, in government, in academia that now, for quite a long time, have been thinking and researching all these things, I think what this can help is to bring it to--
[00:29:04:20] This is not just peripheral issues. These get at the heart of where is this whole climate phenomenon going. Yes, it's being highlighted in an extreme fashion there.
[00:29:18:01] If you look at the reports about flooding and sea level rise around the coast in the United States, it's not just Louisiana, and Texas, Mississippi, but the mid-Atlantic, Virginia--
[00:29:28:09] DAVE DAHM-LUHR: New England.
[00:29:28:25] RAMON BUENO: --and New England. It may take longer, but this is a chance to actually look at what's happened and what contributes to the lack of resilience. And in Puerto Rico, it's an extreme example, right? You see everything collapses. You can actually see it in front of you.
[00:29:45:03] But the lessons here maybe a little less dramatic. But you can start thinking, oh, my god. Preparedness, what does it mean to really be prepared? And how quickly do you have to be prepared? That's an angle that is new, I think, for many people.
[00:29:56:29] And what happened in Puerto Rico is that, within a day or two, a storm going from tropical strength and category 1 to, all of a sudden, category 5, that brings its own requirements of, my god, you have to be prepared, number one. You have to plans. You also have to be prepared to respond very quickly, not just respond, but respond very quickly. Having a population that's informed, that you can reach the most vulnerable very quickly--
[00:30:24:11] So there are lots of lessons that I think are applicable for everyone. And for the groups that are doing these things, I think bringing it closer to the center of what they're doing, I think, has tremendous payoff.
[00:30:39:08] DAVE DAHM-LUHR: So last summer we learned from another podcast guest, Hannah Payne, also an MIT alum, who's the sustainability coordinator for the city of Somerville where you live, that you are on the Commission for Energy Use and Climate Change.
[00:30:53:28] RAMON BUENO: That's right.
[00:30:54:12] DAVE DAHM-LUHR: Any lessons learned from the Puerto Rico example that you're bringing back to Somerville?
[00:30:58:26] RAMON BUENO: Well, first, very glad to be a part of that commission, because we're very fortunate in the city of Somerville that we have a great team, Hannah and Oliver Sellars Garcia, the director there and the people they work with and then the support of the mayor and the city government. So there's a lot of exciting things being discussed and working there.
[00:31:17:26] But I brought there pretty much the same message that, yes, we may not be worried about this kind of dramatic destruction or anything remotely like that. But there are lessons to be learned in terms of who's most vulnerable, why, what kind of readiness. Are there special implications?
[00:31:38:01] This area, Cambridge, Boston, Somerville has been pretty fortunate. There's a wealth of consulting, expertise, and academics and all that. So the three cities that have been doing tremendous amount of planning and vulnerability assessments and climate change action plans. And that's all in motion.
[00:31:56:05] So I would say they would be more quickly able to absorb the lessons. And I think it's up to everyone to really absorb them, but not just for the city. But it's also to be able to show how it can be done for other places that don't have the resources, the academic and other resources. You lead by example and then share your experiences with others.
[00:32:19:17] And I think finding a way, without it being exploitive, but just to learn from. When something much more dramatic happens, it's good to pay attention and say, gee, how much of that shines a light on what we could benefit from by avoiding the worse things or by picking up the best lessons from what's done to get out of it.
[00:32:39:03] SPEAKER 1: With that though, I think, thank you so much, Ramon, for coming here and talking to us.
[00:32:45:00] RAMON BUENO: Thank you.
[00:32:45:15] SPEAKER 1: And do keep us informed about how things play out in Puerto Rico.
[00:32:50:20] RAMON BUENO: I'd be glad to.
[00:32:51:10] DAVE DAHM-LUHR: Great to have had you here, Ramon.
[00:32:53:01] RAMON BUENO: Thank you, Dave.
[00:32:53:24] DAVE DAHM-LUHR: Thanks.
[00:32:55:14] SPEAKER 1: So if you have any thoughts, please share them with us at ClimateX@MIT.edu or of course, on Twitter or Facebook. You can also leave a comment right underneath this podcast.
[00:33:08:02] DAVE DAHM-LUHR: We look forward to hear from you real soon.
[00:33:10:08] SPEAKER 1: Thank you for listening, bye.
[00:33:11:23] [MUSIC PLAYING]
Somerville's Commission on Energy Use and Climate Change
S1E7: Reaching Carbon Neutrality in Somerville, MA by 2050
Puerto Rico Climate Change Council
UPR National Institute for Energy and Island Sustainability (INESI -Instituto Nacional de Energía y Sostenibilidad Isleña)
Institute for Competitiveness and Sustainable Economy (ICSE -Instituto de Competitividad y Sostenibilidad Económica)
Center for a New Economy (CNE)
Center for Investigative Journalism (CPI - Centro de Periodismo Investigativo)